April 10, 2009

What to do in Cannes when celebrities are asleep; 5 must-to-do things in and around Cannes

One other thing to do, besides browsing the streets and beaches of Cannes, is to take a day trip to Grasse – the perfume capital of the world.

Two-thirds of France’s aromas come from there and that does not include the brands we all know and cherish at a local Sephora store; it offers the varieties only a true French would know how to pick. All we can hope for is for a nice French salesperson to educate, show and suggest an aroma we can take back home with us. Patrick Suskind’s “The Perfumer” comes to mind as I talk about French aromas and classic perfumers. But that’s another story.

Princess Pauline Bonaparte, the Emperor's sister, spent the winter of 1807-1808 in Grasse, recuperating her mental and physical strength. Queen Victoria vacationed through several winters in Grasse, staying at the Rothschild's, or at the Grand Hotel. Napoléon himself passed through Grasse in 1815. And they did leave their footprints.

The French perfume industry started in Grasse in the 16th century as an extension of the glove industry. Grasse was ideal because of the sunshine and micro-climate that facilitated the growth of the most delicate flowers.

By the 17th century, perfumers and apothecaries began settling here, and in 1729, the perfumers published their official statutes. The industrial side of the perfume business is located in the countryside and villages surrounding Grasse. The perfume industry now relies more on the chemical process than on flowers.

So, if you are a fan of a perfume that stands out, in a good way, among all the available in U.S.A. brands, and if you have a nose for it, Grasse is heaven for perfume lovers.

5 Must-to-Do Things in and around Cannes:

1. A walk on La Croisette (the avenue of the Little Cross that used to stand east of the bay.) The waterfront avenue of Cannes, known for its full-of-paparazzi, but picturesque, beaches, restaurants, cafes and boutiques, stretches along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. To one side there's the Mediterranean, the Lerins islands off the coast, and the Esterel mountain range. On the other side, there are palm trees, elegant belle époque hotels, luring sandy beaches and fashionable boutiques.
2. Get lost in the old town of Cannes, La Suquet. It offers a few sites, where you can take a good view of La Croisette. Chapel of St. Anne that houses the Musée de la Castre is a must. Apparently, The Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned on the Îles de Lérins.

3. If you are tired of all the outdoor people watching, sun bathing and wining, visit the local museums. In particulaire, The Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Provence, the Musée de la Castre, the Musée de la Marine, Musée de la Mer, Musée de la Photographie, and Musée International de la Parfumerie.

4. The villas of Cannes. Nineteenth-century Cannes can still be seen in its grand villas, built to reflect the wealth and standing of their owners and inspired by anything from medieval castles to Roman villas. Lord Brougham’s Italianate Villa Eléonore Louise - one of the first in Cannes - was built between 1835 and 1839. Also known as the Quartier des Anglais, this is the oldest residential area in Cannes. Another landmark is the Villa Fiésole (known today as the Villa Domergue) designed by Jean-Gabriel Domergue in the style of Fiesole, near Florence. The villas are not open to the public. Villa Domergue may be visited on appointment.
5. The Islands.
Île Sainte-Marguerite (St. Marguerite Island) – according to a belief, it took "The Man in the Iron Mask" more than 10 years to leave this tiny, isolated island. The mysterious individual was believed to be of noble blood, but his identity has never been proven. You can visit his cell at the Fort of St. Marguerite, now renamed Musée de la Mer (Museum of the Sea), and see pieces from Roman and Saracen ceramics.

St. Honorat Island – it’s an island where you will experience a holy quietness, because except for Cistercian monks there are no other inhabitants. Monks have inhabited the island since AD 410 and, at the height of their powers, owned Cannes, Mougins and Vallauris. But France won’t be France if even Monks didn’t produce wines, so do these monks who find time between prayers and producing wine.

And since you are already out there, in Cannes, it makes sense to take a day trip to Nice; it is worth every penny.

This and plenty of it are available for first and repeat visitors in Cannes. Cannes is not all about the Cannes Film Festival and celebrities. In truth, hardly any of them take advantage of what the region has to offer, which is a pity because France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and once in a while, it makes more sense to visit Cannes, and the rest of the South of France, for its culture, history, people and cuisine, rather than for the film fiesta.

Bon Voyage!

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